The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a preliminary report today in its investigation into the crash of a 2019 Tesla Model S near Houston, Texas, on April 17. Two noteworthy statements stood out in the report. First is that the car’s owner was seated in the driver’s seat, with his companion in the front passenger seat, which contradicts reports at the time that the wrecked car had one person in the front passenger seat and the other in the back seat, with no one behind the wheel. Second is that, although the Model S had Tesla’s Autopilot driver-assist technology equipped, it could not have been in effect at the time of the crash because it couldn’t be enabled in that location. This would seem to vindicate Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who insisted that Autopilot couldn’t have been in operation in the crash.
The accident involved a 59-year-old man who was taking a 69-year-old passenger for a ride in his Model S P100D EV. They started on a cul-de-sac and proceeded onto a two-lane concrete road in a residential neighborhood of Spring, Texas. The NTSB report describes it as “a concrete two-lane road with one westbound and one eastbound lane and mountable concrete curbs on either side,” and said it has no lane markings and is level, with a curve to the south, at the place where the Tesla crashed. The speed limit there is 30 mph, the agency said.
The Tesla owner’s home security camera showed that he got into the car in the driver’s seat, while his companion got in the front passenger seat. From his home, the car traveled “about 550 feet” before going off the road at the curve and over the curb, NTSB said, then it hit a drainage culvert, a raised manhole, and finally a tree, where it caught fire.
The report said the car’s lithium-ion battery case was damaged, and in the ensuing fire the infotainment system’s onboard storage device was destroyed. However, the “restraint control module,” which stores data such as whether seatbelts were in use, how fast the vehicle was going, acceleration information, and airbag deployment, although damaged by fire was recovered and turned over to the NTSB’s laboratory to evaluate.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk insisted that Autopilot would not have been able to work on the road where the crash occurred because it had no line markings. The report seems to bear this out, stating that two other driver-assist features, Traffic Aware Cruise Control and Autosteer, must both be engaged for Autopilot to work. In a reconstruction using a similar Tesla, the agency found that Autosteer was not usable on that part of the road, meaning the Autopilot system couldn’t have worked.
The NTSB investigation will continue, working alongside NHTSA and Tesla. They will be looking into such issues as as seatbelt use, crash dynamics, and “occupant egress”—which should let the agency conclude whether the driver was actually in the front or back of the car at time of impact—among other data such as postmortem toxicology test results.
The NTSB investigates some 2500 accidents per year, with about 2000 related to aviation and the rest divided among rail, highway, marine and pipeline accidents. The agency said it has not yet decided on the probable cause of the accident but plans to issue “safety recommendations to prevent future crashes” once it does. Meanwhile, the local Texas Precinct 4 Constable’s Office is also investigating on its own.
Jeep will soon have three opulent three-row SUVs in its lineup: the new Grand Cherokee L as well as the upcoming Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer. The Grand Cherokee L is a compelling choice among mid-size three-row SUVs such as the Ford Explorer, Kia Telluride, and Toyota Highlander. It’s a new, stretched version of the popular Grand Cherokee SUV, and it’s ushering in a luxurious new generation. Prices range from $38,690 for the base Laredo model to $66,985 for the fully loaded Summit Reserve. If we were going to buy a three-row Grand Cherokee L, this is how some of our editors would order them from Jeep’s online configurator:
Jeeps are too expensive, so I went with a lightly optioned Grand Cherokee L in its base Laredo trim. The optional $2000 four-wheel-drive system is a must, and I opted for a few niceties including a $1095 sunroof and the $1295 Luxury Tech package, which includes heated seats, a power liftgate, and additional power outlets. Unfortunately there aren’t many interesting colors available, and even the boring grays and blacks cost $345 extra. So I went for the no-cost Bright White, because I’ll only pay more for a paint color if it’s really worth it. The 5.7-liter V-8 engine is desirable but only available in the upper trim levels, so I’ll settle for the standard 3.6-liter V-6 and eight-speed automatic transmission. My $43,775 Grand Cherokee sure isn’t fancy, but it looks handsome and is fairly nicely equipped for the price.
For nearly the same price as an all-wheel-drive Overland, I decided to load up an all-wheel-drive Limited model with some features that would be out of reach on the more expensive trim. I added the larger 10.1-inch infotainment display for $995, the panoramic sunroof for $1795, and the Luxury Tech Group II package for $2295. That bundle includes a ton of must-haves, including a wireless smartphone charging pad, perforated leather upholstery with ventilation, a power-adjustable steering column with memory settings, rain-sensitive windshield wipers, and a few extra driver-assistance features including an off-road camera.
Jeep, disappointingly, isn’t offering many colors on the Grand Cherokee L, so I’d choose Diamond Black Crystal ($345), which I’d probably regret the first time it rained. It offsets the chrome trim nicely and looks great in contrast with the tan-colored leather interior. The only issue with choosing the Limited over the Overland is that it comes standard with some dinky-looking 18-inch wheels, which I remedied here by adding the $1495 20-inch wheel option. I also ordered the $995 Trailer Tow package for an added level of usefulness. The Grand Cherokee L in this spec rings up at a still pricey $55,610, but that’s a savings of $1080 over an optionless Overland.
The first box I’m ticking is four-wheel drive. It’s a Jeep. I’m going to choose the Overland trim because it’s the most rugged of the Grand Cherokee L’s trims, and if I have to buy a Jeep, that’s how I’m getting it. It comes with the $1095 Off-Road Group package, which adds a few off-roading goodies to give it the coveted Trail Rated badge. It’s crazy that there are only four colors, but I’m going to settle for Silver Zynith with the black roof. I’ll gladly take the 18-inch wheels over the 20-inchers because I’m at least hitting some two-tracks in this Jeep. And, of course, I’m going for the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 for the extra $3295. The interior is going to be gray, and I want the larger screen, even though it’s $1795. Now this three-row Jeep costs $63,915, which is admittedly a lot to spend on a Jeep.
There’s no doubt that I could’ve spent less money on this build and still had a well-optioned, affordable Jeep Grand Cherokee L, but with Jeep steadily moving upmarket, it made sense to option out a higher trim that would try to compete with household luxury marques. I ended up selecting the Overland trim, 4×4 of course, and wearing a hue of midnight blue paint that Jeep calls Transmission Heater for $345. To add to the niceties inside, I opted for the Luxury Tech Group IV package that includes upgraded leather 12-way power-adjustable seats with massagers up front, four-zone automatic climate control, second-row window shades, and an induction phone charger. Since the Grand comes standard with the new Uconnect 5 infotainment system, I had to splurge the extra $1795 to try the larger 10.1-inch display. I’d be awfully remiss to forgo the $1095 Off-Road Group, which includes 18-inch wheels, beefier tires, a sturdier rear axle with a limited-slip differential, skid plates for the front suspension, fuel tank, and transfer case, and of course, a Trail Rated badge. Lastly, for $3295 I chose the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 engine option because getting the wimpy six-cylinder would just seem un-American.
The combination of strong demand for new cars and tight inventories is creating a perfect storm of high vehicle prices. Many buyers in 2021 are paying more for new vehicles compared with last year as incentive spending drops and average transaction prices (ATP) rise, and this trend could increase as the global microchip shortage continues to affect production for many models.
According to Cox Automotive, new-vehicle inventory was down 25 percent compared with this time last year at the start of April and could soon be down by as much as 40 percent. At the same time, nearly all automakers are reporting strong sales numbers through the first few months of 2021. With fewer vehicles on dealer lots but strong consumer appetites for new cars, automakers are rolling out fewer incentives; in other words, you won’t find much cash on the hood. Cox Automotive said that incentive spending fell by nearly 16 percent during the first quarter. Measured as a percentage of average transaction prices, incentives dipped below 10 percent for the first time since 2016.
General Motors said that its transaction prices rose by an average of $3500 per vehicle in the first quarter of 2021. Ford claimed that its high average transaction price of $43,600 in April 2021 was driven by a greater mix of more expensive SUV and truck models, which now comprise 94 percent of its sales since the company dropped most of its passenger-car models. It used the example of the Bronco Sport compact SUV to show how this switch has benefitted the company, as the Bronco Sport’s average transaction price (ATP) of $31,800 in April was considerably higher than the out-of-production Fusion mid-size sedan’s $22,600 ATP.
While this shift may boost automakers’ bottom lines, it’s not so good for value-minded consumers. With used-car prices also on the rise, price-sensitive shoppers in need of a vehicle are facing a tough market. “It’s getting more difficult for shoppers to find excellent deals,” noted Charlie Chesbrough, Cox Automotive senior economist. “If price is the ultimate driver, shoppers might be wise to focus on segments of the market where inventory is healthier.” Cox’s data indicates that compact and mid-size cars and subcompact SUVs may have better supply, which means there could be better deals to be had.
How long will these higher prices last? We don’t know, but surely not forever. Reuters reported that many auto executives, including GM CEO Mary Barra, believe that the chip shortage will worsen in the second quarter of 2021, which could further impact inventories and drive prices even higher. The bottleneck is expected to improve in the second half of the year, at which point the supply and demand could start to balance out. If you can hold off on your new-vehicle purchase for a few more months, your wallet might thank you.
In the five years since we started conducting a 200-mile highway fuel-economy test, we’ve had the pleasure and inconvenience of running the test on a wide array of EVs. The test involves an out-and-back loop of a 100-mile stretch of interstate taken at a cruise-controlled 75 mph. Often, a highway fuel economy test of an EV involves a shortened loop and a lot of nail-biting on the part of whichever test driver has been assigned to the task. But when we recently got our hands on a Tesla Model S Long Range Plus, the scene was different. No shortened loop, no nerves. We had to lengthen the course instead, notching 320 miles at 75 mph, the best result of any EV yet.
The Model S Long Range Plus was a flash in the pan of Tesla’s lineup. Announced in June 2020 with an EPA-estimated 402 miles of range, it’s already off the menu as Tesla prepares for the launch of the Model S Long Range, Plaid, and Plaid Plus, which promise 412, 390, and more than 520 miles of range, respectively (not to mention claims of sub-two-second zero-to-60-mph times for the Plaids). But even if it’s destined to be quickly overshadowed by an even more impressive sibling, the lucky few who bought a Long Range Plus while it was available should take heart in knowing that, for now, they’re driving the only EV on the road that could actually beat certain gas cars in a range battle.
The Model S Long Range Plus would tie in a range war with a Mustang Shelby GT500, which earned 20 mpg during our highway fuel-economy test and has a 16-gallon fuel tank. And that’s only if the driver of the GT500 could resist the siren call of the Predator V-8 and stick to a 75-mph cruise. At the 320-mile mark, the low fuel light would probably be on in a Jeep Renegade, which earned 29 mpg on our test but has a 360-mile range between fill-ups.
The Model S Long Range Plus has a 100.0-kWh battery, the same capacity of its predecessors such as the 2018 Model S 100D, which had 335 miles of range according to the EPA methodology and went 270 miles in our highway range test. Tesla eked out 67 extra miles of EPA range by employing a number of efficiency measures, including shaving weight from the car’s interior, adding model-specific aerodynamic wheels and tires, and making tweaks to the electric motor. Those changes also helped us go 422.7 miles in a different Long Range Plus during a test in which we drove at 65 mph instead of the 75 mph we use for our highway fuel-economy test. We’re eager to get our hands on a Model S Plaid Plus, as it claims nearly 30 percent more range, but the launch of that trim has been delayed until the middle of next year, so the Long Range Plus should hold our EV highway range crown for a while.
The new hybrid version of the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe costs more than the nonhybrid version but offers a considerable improvement in fuel efficiency. Rated at up to 34 mpg combined by the EPA, the hybrid model comes standard with all-wheel drive and costs $34,835 to start.
Although all Santa Fe hybrids are powered by the same turbocharged 1.6-liter gas engine and electric motor, the base model, called Blue, is the most efficient version. The better-equipped SEL Premium ($38,785) and Limited ($41,135) versions are rated at a slightly lower 32 mpg combined. By comparison, nonhybrid AWD Santa Fe models are rated at 24 mpg combined regardless if you choose the 191-hp naturally aspirated 2.5-liter inline-four or the more powerful 277-hp turbocharged 2.5-liter engine. The hybrid model’s total power output of 225 horsepower slots in neatly between the two gasoline engines.
A plug-in-hybrid version of the Santa Fe is also on its way. It will feature a larger battery pack that will provide an estimated electric driving range of 30 miles. Hyundai hasn’t yet announced a price for the plug-in model but says it will start around $35,000.
The conventional hybrid will arrive first, hitting dealerships this spring, while the plug-in-hybrid will arrive later for the 2022 model year.
The Toyota GR Yaris is a tantalizing piece of forbidden fruit that’s not coming to the United States, but there’s still hope of a high-performance Corolla being available in America. A new rumor from Car Sensor in Japan suggests the model could have 296 horsepower (220.6 kilowatts or 300 metric horsepower).
The engine is reportedly a tuned version of the 1.6-liter turbocharged three-cylinder from the GR Yaris. Pushing the engine to 296 hp from the current 257 hp (192 kW) shouldn’t be too hard because Litchfield already has kits that push the output 305 hp (227 kW)
The power runs through a six-speed manual gearbox. There’s all-wheel drive with three modes that alter the front-rear torque split.
According to Car Sensor, Toyota uses the five-door hatchback version of the Corolla as the basis for the GR version. The exterior tweaks include revised bumpers, wider front and rear fenders with ducts in them, and a vent in the hood for dissipating the heat from the engine.
An even more tantalizing detail from this bounty of rumors is about the GR Corolla’s price. According to this report, the hot hatch would have a price in Japan between 3.5 million yen ($32,395 at current exchange rates) and 4.0 million yen ($37,021). For comparison, the all-wheel-drive GR Yaris RZ has a starting price of 3.96 million yen ($36,650). If these numbers for the GR Corolla’s price turn out to be true, then the hot hatch could be quite a bargain.
In Japan, there might also be a GR version of the Corolla Touring wagon that would use a hybrid-assisted 2.0-liter engine. Since this model isn’t available in the US, the chances of it coming to America seem low.
The rumors suggest the GR Corolla would debut in 2021 but might not be on sale in the US until the 2023 model year. This still means the hot hatch could be in American showrooms by the second half of 2022. In 2019, Toshio Kanei, deputy chief designer at Toyota, confirmed that the vehicle was under development.